Choosing the perfect dog food is one of the most important decisions a pet parent has to make. However, with so many options available, pet parents often ask themselves, "what is the healthiest food to feed my dog?"When welcoming a new puppy or dog into the family, it's easy to forget they aren't human. A dog’s digestive system is very different from a human being’s, and their bodies have different nutritional requirements. It’s also important to remember that, just like humans, there isn’t a “one food fits all” option. And pretty packaging does not indicate the quality of a product. Every dog has different nutritional needs based on age, breed, body scoring and overall health.
What to Look For
The first thing to look for when buying packaged dog food is a statement from The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO is an organization that sets minimum standards for nutritional content in dog food. It is required that a dog food that bears the AAFCO statement of "complete and balanced" ensures it meets those standards through either calculation-based methods or actual food trials. In addition to the AAFCO statement, here are a few key things to look for that will help you make the best decision:
- A label that tells you what meat is the primary source of protein. It should be listed as one of the first 3 ingredients. Minimum amounts of protein for kibble is approximately 18%.
- Whole grains.
- Vegetables: dogs are omnivores and need some plant material in their diet.
- Fats: look for high-quality fats such as Omega-3 and Omega-6.
There are foods specifically for dogs with medical issues, such as sensitive skin, sensitive stomach, or joint and bone health issues. A dog that has a health concern needs a diet that’s tailored to their needs. Veterinarians are trained and knowledgeable about dog diets and may be able to recommend the right brand.
Types of Dog Diets
Here is a breakdown of types of dog diets and what pet parents need to be aware of when considering their pet’s nutritional needs.
Kibble or Dry Food: This diet is the easiest, most convenient and most popular diet. Make sure to look for the AAFCO statement on the label. Avoid foods that have harsh chemical preservatives, artificial colors and artificial flavors, as food dyes and other synthetic chemicals can damage your dog’s kidneys and liver. Always check your ingredients, and, when in doubt, consult with a veterinarian about the brands they trust.
The Raw Diet: The raw diet consists of uncooked meats, fruits and vegetables. Raw diets are controversial, and they’re not recommended by veterinarians. However, pet parents that are absolutely adamant about this diet should be balanced by a veterinarian nutritionist and paired with supplements. Dogs also risk ingesting parasites or harmful bacteria. It's also important for dogs on this diet to get regular fecal exams and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to check for the presence of infectious organisms.
Freeze-dried Diet: A freeze-dried diet is similar to the raw diet, except that the food is first dehydrated and frozen. While the freezing process kills harmful bacteria and parasites, the food will rehydrate in the dog’s digestive tract, so it's important to offer the dog plenty of extra water to prevent dehydration.
Home-cooked Diet: A home-cooked diet is a good way to know exactly what the dog is eating, which can be very helpful for dogs with allergies or other health issues. However, many home-cooked diet recipes available online are deficient and not balanced. All home-made diets will require a supplement addition to ensure it is complete. Pet parents that choose this diet should consult with a veterinarian nutritionist to ensure the recipe is suitable for the dog's specific, nutritional needs. A good reference site for reliable recipes is balanceit.com. Extra care should be taken to make sure bones have been removed, as they can splinter and injure the dog’s mouth, throat, stomach, or intestines. Many seasonings, such as garlic, are toxic to dogs — for safety, don’t season the dog’s food.
Grain-Free: While a pet parent might be avoiding grains, their dog doesn’t need to. Only 0.01% of dogs have a grain allergy. High-quality grains are an important part of a dog’s diet — they provide necessary fiber and provide dogs with energy. If that wasn’t enough, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched an investigation into grain-free dog food because of a connection between heart disease among dogs and the food.
For More Information
Veterinarians are very knowledgeable about the canine digestive system and can make food and dietary recommendations based on a dog's specific needs. Some dogs may require specialized foods that require a prescription from a veterinarian. In addition to a veterinarian, canine nutritionists have the insights of a specialist and will make dietary recommendations that are tailored to every dog.